Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Simply elegant Christmas surprises

As Nat King Cole sings about chestnuts roasting, Gato’s manager Magda is in the kitchen busily fixing her famous eggnog. It doesn’t taste like the grocery store nog, in a carton thick with guar gum, but more like rum soup with nutmeg and sugar. “I make it extra strong — pre-Christmas shopping formula,” she says.

Thanksgiving weekend, Magda showed Gato all her favorite Windy City boutiques so, in her words, “Man can do what he was born to do, buy pretty women, not so pretty women, and ugly-but-with-good-personality women exquisite Christmas gifts.”

For any chicos or chicas planning a shopping day trip to Chicago via Van Galder bus, all places mentioned this week are accessible off the Blue Line train, (the L), that runs from O’Hare.


Chicago’s Northwest side is where Latinos and Eastern Europeans live side by side. So, while browsing boutiques with styles that mix hipster Brooklyn with the small shops on the NYC upper west, there are lots of ethnic surprises.

Before doing our part to raise the consumer confidence index, Gato and Magda started with breakfast at Pancho’s across from the California L stop. The main reasons to go to Pancho’s are the Spanish tortilla omelet served on grilled French bread and the best Cuban espresso outside of that bastard Castro’s kitchen.

Gato says ‘bastard’ because he hates it when Andy Garcia and Gloria Estefan constantly protest his column for being easy on Castro.

Anyway, for Cubs fans, Pancho’s should be a religious pilgrimage. Proprietor Pancho is close friends with Sammy Sosa. His place is filled with photos of Sammy working the grill, family hanging out at batting practice with Dusty Baker, and more autographed balls and bats than a sports-card convention. Right over the center of the counter is a photo straight out of that wood-paneled Valhalla called Man Heaven — a photo of Wrigley Field’s outdoor sign advertising “Pancho signs with Cubs.”

After Pancho’s, we headed down to Wicker Park. No, not the Josh Harnett movie, the ‘hood where Chicago’s edge fashion boutiques have congregated. Of all U.S. cities, Chicago has the best selection of clothing stores selling funky but professional styles that help ladies keep it crunk in corporate America.

Conjoined-twin shoe store, Niche and City Soles, was our first stop (2001 W. North Avenue, 773.489.2001). Niche is the swank side while City Soles features a wide selection of Campers and similar names.

Niche is the Willy Wonka factory of footwear for royalty, featuring European labels that haven’t caught fire anywhere else. Half the store looked like the dance floor of Studio 54. Heel sizes vary much more in this season than they have in the past, but the modus operandi of sexy is boots that cling to the calf, doing that visual kama sutra that boots do.

For budget gift buyers, Niche has a whole wall of deeply discounted shoes. All are the type of styles that are minimally outrageous, but more classic, sure to last several seasons.

Believe it or not, if you hombres are trying to be a matador this season, shoes are easier to buy than clothes. Besides, if your femme realizes you remembered her shoe size, she’ll melt like Cool Whip on hot pie.

Up the street from Niche, on Damen, are the magical retail worlds of P45 (1643 N. Damen, 773.862.4523) and Jolie Joli (1623 N. Damen, 773.342.7272). From these locations, Gato is going to preach the gift-giving gospel of accessories. With accessories, there are no sensitive size issues that arise. Additionally, they are the things she usually restrains herself from buying. On shopping sprees with her friends, another word for accessory is guilt.

P45 is one of those places in Chicago that the jet set makes trips to for day shopping. Clothes on the racks reflect the minimalist design of the storefront. Most often, the mostly emerging designers add restrained but radical flourishes that make mujeres stand out like a lilac blooming in January.

Budget buys at P45 include fur pin-on flowers, fur earmuffs (both by FuryNYC) and legwarmers so classy Cinderella would refuse to take them off at the ball after auditioning for the lead in Flashdance II.

If your princess has a Porsche, and you have a 4-cylander pumpkin, gift giving can be stressful. Gato’s solution is Jolie Joli. It’s a pricey boutique, but all the big, wet, red kisses you’ll get will compensate for the extra expenditure. Gato’s favorite at the store is Mayle.

Mayle makes sophisticated silk casual wear for women in colors and patterns that call up fabrics Italians have been using since Roman times. Everything from Mayle has that all important mix and match versatility. One piece is perfect for wear between impressing snooty parents at holiday dinner and provoking extraterrestrial green-eyed jealousy in ex-girlfriends when you meet his hometown buddies at the bar. Practice with Gato what you’ll say to your man afterwards: “I don’t know, she seemed kind of, oh … conventional to me.”

Jolie Joli also has a collection of very unconventional brooches and scarves for budget shoppers.

If one is looking for inspired home furnishings, ornaments or tasteful curios, (for NYC and LA readers, curios are those objects Midwesterners keep on the fireplace mantle) Embelezar (1639 N. Damen, 773.645.9705) is filled with future heirlooms. Gato is dreaming about those lamps with wood-carved bases.

Wicker Park stores will be sponsoring Dazzle on Damen and all the stores mentioned will have additional discounts on Dec. 2.

Gato mentioned Cuba and wanted to announce that he’s found a place in Chicago with real Cuban Cohibas at a fair price. Mario’s Taco House at North and Western Avenues is a Mexican restaurant decorated like a South American tobacco shop. They also sell real Cuban puros. Of course, when you buy them for papa, don’t mention Illinois has a trade agreement with Cuba. Revealing they aren’t contraband takes the imagination out of the gift.

By the way, the food at Mario’s is a good way to finish your shopping day.

Finally, let’s talk seasonal cocktails. After shopping, Magda served Gato something called hot Krakow spiced wine. Gato knew it was really German Glüklichwein. To be fair to Magda and to show global unity during this season, we’ll call it Ukrainian punch.

To make it, pour two cups of red wine — a cabernet, preferably — and 1/4 -1/2 cup sugar, to taste, in a saucepan. Begin to heat and add 1 tsp. of nutmeg, 1-1/2 tsp. of sugar, 1/2 cup of sliced red apple and 3/4 of a whole orange, sliced in half discs. Stir until warm and serve in goblets.

To get it or eat it in Chicago:

Pancho’s Café, 2200 N. California

Mario’s Taco House, 2413 W. North Ave. 773.772.4106

Niche/City Soles, P45, Embelezar, Jolie Joli, and Embelezar are all within four blocks of the Damen El stop off Chicago’s Blueline.

Next week: Making Christmas baskets with loot from more Chicago and Madison merchants and holiday cocktail recipes. Also, he hasn’t forgotten delivering Oprah’s hairstylist.

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